Reasons To Stay: Building Town & Gown Relations One Fraternity Visit At A Time

Mar 31, 2016

Peg Hambrick and her husband Don bought their house in the Highlands neighborhood when they moved back to State College in 2002.
Credit Emily Reddy / WPSU

Visit the multi-media side of the Reasons to Stay project.

WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians decide whether to make their home here or move on, in our new series “Reasons to Stay.”

Peg Hambrick and her husband Don live in a lovely brick colonial on a corner lot in the Highlands neighborhood. The neighborhood borders downtown State College and just beyond that the Penn State campus.

Hambrick loves living among Penn State students. But all those students, paired with high real estate prices, can scare off would-be buyers. So Hambrick is working to make the neighborhood more attractive to the post-college crowd.

As Hambrick walks through the neighborhood, she points out tidy owner-occupied homes and waves to neighbors. She also points out the rentals. Some are in good shape and some are dilapidated.

About 80 percent of the Highlands is rentals, and the mix of families and sometimes-rambunctious student renters can cause friction. Hambrick is trying to bring these groups together, by focusing on one particular group - Fraternities.

A block away from her house, Hambrick points out a big pink Spanish-style house. It’s the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. She and her husband are partnered with this fraternity as a part of the “Neighbor to Neighbor” program.

Hambrick helped start the program as one way to create connections between permanent residents and students. The fraternities invite their partner families to some of their events and there’s at least one big get together a year for the families and representatives from every fraternity.

Hambrick has a good opinion of the fraternities after her interactions with them through “Neighbor to Neighbor.”

“I was just at a meeting this morning where people kept saying ‘fraternities, fraternities.’ It's not fraternities,” said Hambrick. “It's a group of students and they usually had too much to drink and they're under age and they're not the fraternities.”

Later, looping back by her fraternity, rap music can be heard from the sidewalk. It’s not too loud for the mid-afternoon.

If the music was too loud, Hambrick says she’d feel comfortable asking them to turn it down. Maybe not at midnight during a wild party. But during the day, yes. It’s a simple enough neighborly interaction, but if their “Neighbor to Neighbor” relationship didn’t already exist that’s the kind of scenario that could involve police and lead to grudges.  

Back at the house, Hambrick settles in on a sofa across from a large fireplace.

Hambrick first moved to State College in the 70s as a young professional. Then she met her husband and they moved away for a couple of decades. She says when they moved back in 2002 and bought this house she knew it was in a student area that could be noisy. But she wanted to live in the State College borough.

“I said if we're going back to Penn State, Penn State's the borough for me,” Hambrick said. “The idea would be to walk, to be among the university. So we didn't look anywhere except the borough.”

Hambrick also thinks it’s important that students learn how to live in a neighborhood, and with different kinds of people.

“I always love the the student who gets up at a meeting when residents are saying, ‘Oh gosh, the noise.’ And they say, ‘Well, you didn’t have to live here.’ Well, we know that,” Hambrick said. “And we know we moved into a student area. But we're hoping to co-exist.”

In addition to the “Neighbor to Neighbor” program, Hambrick volunteers with the State College Community Land Trust, which helps make homes in the State College borough more affordable.

In spite of her dedication to the State College borough and the Highlands neighborhood, Hambrick says there’s one thing that could pull her away.  

“We have one daughter and she lives in the New York City area. And um I think there could be a time that I would move back to New Jersey because of because of her,” Hambrick said. “Or we might be able to convince them to move here. Don and I have talked about that.”

Hambrick says the pitch to get her daughter to move here would be the easier lifestyle, and two more hours a day with family instead of commuting. Plus, after New York, a home in downtown State College might seem both quiet and affordable. 

You can become a part of the conversation by going to Instagram and posting pictures of your reasons to stay in the State College area with the hashtag #wpsureasonstostay